No surprise: Judge hits tying HR, setting stage for Volpe walk-off

May 24th, 2023

NEW YORK --  was down to his final strike in the ninth inning on Tuesday night, having been fed a couple of 100 mph fastballs from an elite closer, and he assumed the familiar stance -- legs firmly set apart, bat cocked high near his right ear. His teammates said they knew what would happen: Their captain was about to come through.

Judge blasted a hanging splitter into the left-field seats for a game-tying home run, a shot  would call “the least surprising thing I’ve ever seen.” One inning later, it was the rookie’s turn to savor a big moment, lifting a walk-off sacrifice fly that sealed New York’s 6-5, 10-inning victory over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

“The whole game, the whole moment -- it was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments, happening for the first time,” Volpe said. “I wanted the opportunity.”

The Yankees notched their fifth consecutive win as Volpe delivered with runners at the corners in the 10th, sending Bryan Baker’s fastball deep enough to center field for Isiah Kiner-Falefa to trot home with the winning run. The 22-year-old is the fourth-youngest Yankee since 1961 to record a walk-off RBI, behind Gleyber Torres (21 years old, twice in May 2018) and Melky Cabrera (21 years old, July 2006).

“His first big walk-off there in a big situation, a game that we were down,” Judge said. “He’s been swinging the bat well all year. He’s hitting it hard right at guys, and he really hasn’t been getting rewarded. He didn’t try to do too much. He could have tried to swing for the fences, but he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to get this ball in the air.’”

Mobbed by his teammates between first and second base, Volpe was soon standing in front of the first-base dugout when Judge and Anthony Rizzo hoisted a water cooler, dousing the shortstop with ice. Volpe grinned through the chill, saying the walk-off was “one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

“We’ve had a few young guys come up and really impact us these last couple of years,” said manager Aaron Boone. “It’s been fun to watch him navigate this, with all eyes on him. He just handles everything so well. We felt like we had the right guy up there.”

There would have been no Volpe walk-off, no frosty bath, if Judge hadn’t padded his jaw-dropping numbers against the Orioles. He has now slugged 38 homers against Baltimore pitchers since 2017, the most by a Major Leaguer vs. a single opponent over that span.  

“The one thing you can count on the most is, he’s going to put together a super-competitive at-bat,” said Gerrit Cole. “He’s going to be really disciplined in his approach. There’s never really a moment that’s too big for him.”

Having converted 11 of his first 14 save opportunities, Félix Bautista made quick work of Torres to open the ninth. He set out to do the same against Judge, the recently crowned American League Player of the Week who had been held to a walk in four trips to home plate.

Bautista nicked the outside corner with a 100.7 mph fastball, then pumped another triple-digit heater to Judge, who fouled it back. Bautista’s next pitch was an 87.8 mph splitter, intended to go low and outside but instead headed right down Broadway -- and not for long.

“In that situation, I’m trying to stay ready for that heater,” Judge said. “I was able to get something up in the zone and put a good swing on it.”

It was Judge’s first career homer that tied the game in the ninth inning or later, but he has hit six go-ahead blasts. As Boone said: “You shake your head, like, ‘He’s done it again.’”

“I thought exactly what happened was going to happen,” Volpe said. “But I think what’s so cool is that everyone in the dugout had that same belief. No one was surprised.”

Added Michael King, who tossed two scoreless innings to pick up the win in relief: “It’s Aaron Judge. You know he’s capable of doing that. The electricity in the dugout was pretty fun to be a part of.”

The comeback marked the Yankees’ 12th win in 15 games, coming after Cole permitted five runs over five-plus innings despite notching his 2,000th career strikeout.

Harrison Bader hit a fourth-inning homer, and the Yankees pushed across three fifth-inning runs to tie the game only to fall behind on Terrin Vavra’s RBI groundout.

“We could have cashed it in and got ready for the next game, but we answered right back,” Judge said. “It’s fun to be a part of; fun to watch, that’s for sure.”